Court Dismisses Diabetic Truck Driver’s Disability Discrimination Claims

The Northern District of New York recently held, in Wilkie v. The Golub Corp., that a diabetic truck driver (1) failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, and (2) was not a “qualified individual with a disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A physician responsible for performing Department of Transportation (DOT) physicals for truck drivers determined that plaintiff’s blood sugar levels were too high to safely operate a commercial vehicle, and that he could no longer work as a truck driver for defendant. Plaintiff sued.

Failure to Exhaust DOT Remedies

Initially the court held that plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. For example, 49 C.F.R. § 391.47 lays out the procedure for the review of an initial medical determination by the driver’s or motor carrier’s physician.

Citing the “long-settled rule of judicial administration that no one is entitled to judicial relief for a supposed or threatened injury until the prescribed administrative remedy has been exhausted,” the court held that plaintiff’s “appropriate recourse was to first pursue the procedure established by DOT.”

Disability Discrimination

Next, the court dismissed plaintiff’s disability discrimination claims under the ADA and the New York State Human Rights Law, on the ground that plaintiff was not “qualified” for the job.

Generally, the ADA “prohibits discrimination against any qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.'”

To state a prima facie case of disability discrimination under the ADA, a plaintiff must show that:

(1) his employer is subject to the ADA; (2) he was disabled within the meaning of the ADA; (3) he was otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of his job, with or without reasonable accommodation; and (4) he suffered adverse employment action because of his disability.

The parties did not dispute the first two elements.  Thus, the court focused on whether plaintiff was “qualified for the position, with or without reasonable accommodation.” 

It held that plaintiff was not so qualified:

[T]he DOT has promulgated regulations which establish certain qualifications for drivers of commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce. All drivers must be “medically certified as physically qualified” by passing a medical examination and receiving certification by the examining physician. Without this certification, therefore, an individual is not qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce.

Golub asserts that DOT regulations required Wilkie to undergo the physical examination, and also prohibited Golub from employing Wilkie as a driver when the medical examiner refused to certify him. It is undisputed that, at the time Wilkie was placed on disability leave, following Dr. Silverman’s determination, Wilkie was no longer DOT-medically certified to drive a truck. This failure to obtain [DOT medical certification] precluded him from being a qualified individual with a disability, and therefore prevents him from maintaining his ADA claim against Golub. …

Here, there is no genuine factual dispute regarding Wilkie’s failure to obtain DOT certification. The undisputed evidence shows that Wilkie was denied DOT certification to drive a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce when Dr. Silverman determined that Wilkie did not pass the physical exam. Without such certification, and with no evidence to the contrary, Wilkie has failed to establish that he is qualified for the job, and therefore is unable to maintain a discrimination claim under the ADA. Because the standards under the ADA and the New York Human Rights Law are the same, Wilkie’s claims under the Human Rights Law are also dismissed. If Wilkie had a complaint regarding Dr. Silverman’s decision not to certify him, Wilkie’s proper course of action would have been to pursue the administrative mechanism established by the DOT.

Thus, the court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

Moreover, plaintiff’s New York State Human Rights Law claim fell with his ADA claim, since those claims are “governed by the same standards.”

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